Since Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader and Labour adopted the approach of opposing and voting against Tory austerity policies, the Tories’ political weakness has been exploited and a number of significant reversals imposed on the government.
The government’s U-turns on cutting tax credits and disability benefits were achieved because of Labour’s campaigning. Now Labour has also got the government backing down on its plan to force all schools out of local authority control. The Prime Minister and Education Secretary have signalled a partial retreat on their academies proposals, indicating they will now allow some local education authority involvement.
Labour has also won some concessions on the Tories’ proposed reforms of trade union political funds, which would slash Labour’s financing. Following a determined campaign by Labour and the trade unions a series of defeats were inflicted on the government in the House of Lords. The Tories have now agreed to delay the reforms. Under the original timetable trade unions would have had just three months to get their members to actively choose to support Labour. The change to an ‘Opt-in’ requirement for the political levy could cost Labour £8 million a year.
In the current junior doctors struggle, against worsening employment conditions, the Labour leadership has sent the clear signal it stands with those defending the NHS. Both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell joined the 26 March junior doctors march through London as doctors were striking to get the government to negotiate. This is almost unprecedented.
Labour’s leadership have shifted the party from abstaining on the Tories’ attacks on living standards to vigorously opposing them. The anti-austerity terrain of this fight has put the Tories on the back foot. The pattern of falling Labour support from 2012 to 2015 (measured at local elections as a collapse from 39 to 30 per cent) has been halted with opinion polls reporting the Tories now slipping downwards.
The loss of Labour support after 2012, when nearly one quarter of voters defected, as the party set out its right wing policy agenda towards the 2015 general election, cannot be instantly reversed. Labour needs to convince a large section of the population that it will use the levers of government to improve people’s living standards and will not continue the current austerity attacks. That requires clear policies and focussed campaigning raising awareness of those policies.
Returning Labour to its previous pro-austerity framework, which would follow any coup against Corbyn, offers no way forward. It was the right’s policies that unleashed a collapse of Labour support and aided the Tories.
With postal ballot papers now out for the 5 May elections and with opinion polls suggesting Labour post-2012 slump in support may have halted under Corbyn’s leadership, the right’s offensive has been ratcheted up. Current attacks allege that Sadiq Khan is linked to ‘extremism’ and that Labour is an anti-Semitic party. The latter campaign, as the Jewish Socialist Group points out, is a ‘concerted effort by right-wing political forces to undermine the growing support among Jews and non-Jews alike for the Labour Party leadership of Jeremy Corbyn’.
Labour’s suspension of Ken Livingstone, who is clearly not anti-Semitic nor a ‘Nazi apologist’ as claimed by a right wing Labour MP, is the Labour right’s third Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) gain this year, following the ousting of Steve Rotheram as a parliamentary party representative in January and the election of right wing candidate as the Young Labour representative in February. The Labour right are highly focussed on shifting the balance on the NEC to facilitate a coup against Corbyn.
In this year’s English local elections the specific seats being fought are the ones last contested in 2012, when Labour achieved a 39 per cent vote share. So loses of Labour seats and controlled councils are inevitable this year. Strathclyde University’s Professor John Curtice, President of the British Polling Council, has indicated Labour should expect to lose somewhere in the region of 170 to 220 councillors.
A realistic assessment of Labour’s prospects does not conflict with the optimistic campaign tone set by the Labour leadership.
The current priority for the left in British politics is to maximise the Labour vote.
The Tories negative campaign strategy for London Mayor is to promote Islamophobia against Labour’s candidate Sadiq Khan and smear him as being linked to with Islamic extremism.
The Prime Minister made a much publicised claim that Khan has shared platforms with a supporter of Islamic State (IS), an imam called Suliman Gani. This is a straight forward smear of both Khan and Gani. Gani, as Peter Oborne reports, is in fact an opponent of IS and he campaigned for the Tories at the 2015 General Election.
Labour MPs have correctly attacked Cameron’s racism and the Islamophobia of the Tory campaign.
A victory for Khan is not just important for Labour, but would deliver a blow against Islamophobia.
There is a concerted effort to get British troops into Libya. Defence Secretary Philip Hammond has repeatedly campaigned for troop deployment. The recent G5 meeting is reported to have discussed co-ordinated military intervention at the prompting of the US administration. And there are reports that special forces troops are already there.
Western military intervention in Libya is illegal and it has not been voted on in parliament. There is no properly constituted government which could ‘invite’ in Western powers. More importantly it continues the disastrous policy of Western military intervention in the Middle East, the Maghreb and the wider Arab world, including in Libya itself.
The claims that Western bombing and the overthrow of Qaddafi would lead to a better Libya have proved to be disastrously wrong. The same type of self-serving propaganda about fighting ISIS is being used once more when the real objective is securing oil for Western markets. Further military intervention by the West should be opposed by the labour movement and all anti-war campaigners.
Stop the War Coalition has an article here opposing British troops being sent to Libya and all activities, protests or pickets in this campaign should be supported.
Austria far right tops Presidential poll
The Austrian far right Freedom Party has topped the polled in the first round elections for the largely ceremonial post of president. The overtly racist and anti-immigrant party gained 36% of the vote and will face a run-off with the candidate from the Greens.
The Social Democratic and People’s Parties that have traditionally dominated Austrian politics in the post-World War II period were humiliated in fourth and fifth place respectively, beaten too by an independent. From a combined 79% of the vote in the 2002 parliamentary elections, the SDP and the People’s Party gained a combined vote of just 22% in this election.
This reflects trends across Europe, where there has been a radicalisation to the right and far right under the impact of the crisis. The radicalisation to the left that followed in many countries has only just begun in Austria, reflected in the strength of the Greens and among SDP youth and anti-racist campaigners. The People’s Party and the SDP have utterly failed to stem the rise of the vile Freedom Party because they have adopted its rhetoric. Across Europe, it is only possible to defeat the far right by fighting their politics, not by bending towards them.